Fambul Tok: Forgive and Forget

This post is a collaboration with Dawn Hoffmann

How hard is it to forgive?  Do you think some things don’t deserve forgiveness?  Do you think that along with forgiveness must also come forgetting?  This may be a hard process to understand and maybe even fathom – forgiving, let alone forgetting, seems almost impossible sometimes.

In Luke, we find these words from Jesus:  “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged:  condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be forgiven.” (1)

Then, too, according to Paul in his letter to the Philippians:  “ I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I  do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (2)

So, we see that both forgiving and forgetting are important ingredients to attaining the prize!  This prize, to me, would be a sense of peace and freedom in dealing with the experiences of our daily lives – living happily and confidently.  We would not have a dark shadow of anger, resentment, self-justification, condemnation, or fear clouding thought.

Forgiving is from the heart and we do have to work to truly forgive.  But, forgetting seems impossible, sometimes.  We learn from our mistakes and from our “lessons learned.”  And, from historical events, we wisely learn from others’ mistakes.  Forgetting, to me, means letting go of anger, fear, hatred, and any other intense feeling, that we may feel towards another person and, having learned, moving on with our lives.

“If you have been badly wronged, forgive and forget:  God will recompense this wrong, and punish, more severely than you could, him who has striven to injure you.  Never return evil for evil…,” (3) Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, says in Miscellaneous Writings, a collection of her “practical teachings” which “demonstrate the ethics of Christian Science.” (4)

The realization that answers are present within a situation and traditions to help heal are already present is what spurred the development of a remarkable process — Fambul Tok.

Fambul Tok means “family talk”  in Krio, the Sierra Leonean language.  It is a traditional “way of discussing and resolving issues within the security of the family circle.” (5)

Dawn and I attended a Fambul Tok event at Hood College, Sunday, March 18.  It included a documentary film followed by a question and answer session led by Libby Hoffman,  a co-founder of the Fambul Tok Program and President of Catalyst for Peace.

Having just finished a book, Fambul Tok, detailing this group and the work they are doing, we felt compelled to write this blog about it — hoping, of course, others will be as inspired as we were to be more willing to forgive.

The 11 year civil war left villages, communities and districts in a shambles – neighbor not trusting neighbor and in some instances family members not trusting family members.  The atrocities suffered were unbelievable.  What was more unbelievable  to us was that the people agreed to a process based on long standing traditions of the Sierra Leoneans to forgive and move forward – to heal and overcome fear rather than succumb to revenge, hatred and division among the villagers’ communities.

The ceremony takes place where villagers from surrounding communities gather around a bonfire.  Victims and perpetrators alike can become involved in “truth telling.”  With the support of their fellow villagers, healing begins.  The victims tell their stories — their fears and the scars that have been left — and the perpetrators have the opportunity to tell their stories, their fears and what motivated them to do what they have done.  They also ask the victim for forgiveness.  No punishment is issued.  No one is cast out.  The judgment includes having the perpetrator help the victim – rebuild homes, tend communal gardens and farm the land together, have meals together and worship together – forming an eventual bond of trust and forgetting, maybe not the incident, but forgetting and leaving behind fear, hatred, revenge, self-justification, and the desire for penalty or punishment.

The entire community can move on together with everyone working together for a complete healing.  The healing begins within – within the hearts of individual villagers and blesses everything without – villages, communities, districts – the entire country of Sierra Leoneand beyond.

“After a ninety minute presentation on Fambul Tok to a group of sixth graders at The Philadelphia School, an independent grade school in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the twenty or so students engaged in eager conversation about the significance of what they had learned.  Uppermost in their thoughts:  How could people forgive each other for such heinous things as murder, amputation, and rape?  Do they have a different understanding of what ‘justice’ means than we do?  And what was the understanding of the ‘community’ that was at work in Sierra Leone that enabled them to come together in the way they did and do such extraordinary things?” (6)

As it turned out, while on a field trip a disruptive incident occurred and this group of sixth graders decided to settle the dispute the Fambul Tok way.  They formed a circle to talk it through together with the students involved.  Instead of sending the accused student to the teacher, they were able to resolve it in a satisfactory way.

Can we do this too?  It is certainly something to which we should aspire – solving problems without penalty, punishment – but inclusion, understanding, forgiveness and ultimately forgetting the pain, uncertainty and distrust.

Definitely food for thought!  We can spread this good news! We can use this process in our own lives.

Forgive and forget!  Peace on earth, good will to men!  Hallelujah!

(1)   Luke 6:37                                                     (2)   Phil 3:13,14

(3)   Miscellaneous Writings 12:5                (4)   Miscellaneous Writings – dedication page

(5)   Fambul Tok: Foreward                           (6)   Fambul Tok: page 95

Photo from flickr.com: Trickydame!

Fambul Tok book cover used by permission.


  1. Joey Hoffman

    Thank you, Kate and Dawn, for attending the screening of Fambul Tok, the film,at Hood College, and for the understanding and insights you gained from that experience. You’ve asked us important questions to consider and, I hope, through these thoughts and this powerful example in Sierra Leone, we can see another way of achieving justice. How important to strive to see our communities as whole, not fragmented or “broken”, not isolating people who do wrong, but seeing through “the wrong” to the true identity of each one. This is our challenge and our opportunity each moment of each day, to truly love one another, and to thereby forgive.

  2. A friend

    How touching! And it is perfectly placed after Easter! Thank you!